3 Reasons Why the Tea Party Might Not Be a Game-Changing Movement


The Tea Party movement has been sweeping the nation for most of the past 18 months since President Obama took office. 

Much of the lead-up to the November 2nd election is not about if the Republicans will gain seats in Congress, but how many — and if they’ll actually win back both houses.  Much of that is owed to the Tea Partiers, who have won a number of GOP primaries.

Now, I’m not denying that there is a vocal segment of Americans who are fed up with… well, everything right now.  The economy, the unemployment, the spending, the taxes… the health care bill, the bailouts, TARP, Pelosi, Reid, Obama.

But is it nearly as big of a movement as our 24-hour news cycle would have us believe?

Here are a few reasons why I’m not so sure:

  1. The Tea Party haven’t (really) won anything yet. Sure, they’ve beaten out some incumbent Republicans in primaries.  But that’s about it.

  2. The Tea Partiers are more of a threat to the GOP than the Democrats. Tea Party candidates have knocked off some solid, traditional GOPers, most notably Rep. Mike Castle who lost the Delaware primary to Christine O’Donnell, who has a slim shot at defeating Chris Coons (D), while Castle (speculation) may have had a much better shot.  In that case, the Tea Party could end up being a liability to the GOP to re-take the Senate.

  3. No Tea Partiers are running for office as Democrats. It’s pretty clear that the country sways back and forth between Democrats and Republicans in waves.  Republicans dominated the 80s and the 00s while Bill Clinton handled the 90s.  In 2008, Americans voted heavily in favor of the Democrats, giving them majorities in both houses and the presidency.Now, I get that many of the issues on which the Tea Partiers are campaigning aren’t traditional Democratic Party stances: lower taxes and cutting entitlements. 

    But if the movement truly were all-encompassing the country, if it were truly capturing the sentiments of a strong majority of voters, it seems like it would’ve drifted into the Democratic Party even a little bit. It’s not like conservative-leaning Democrats don’t exist — I could see Sen. Ben Nelson running in accordance with some of the same ideas as other Tea Partiers.  There have been a number of Democrats who have voted in line with the Republicans on the major bills of the past nearly-two-years — why didn’t any Tea Party candidates emerge to challenge those seats?  Why are they only Republicans?

While much has been said about whether or not the Tea Party will defeat the Democrats in the general election in less than two weeks, it seems like not enough has been said about what this means for the Republican Party.  The Tea Party has gained a ton of traction due to the anti-incumbent mentality going around (natural when the economy is in the dumps — easy to blame those who are in charge even if they may not be the ones who are to blame); but that’s mainly hurt Republicans so far, not Democrats.

What the Tea Party represents are just Republicans in new clothes.  They’ve taken the anti-establishment, anti-elite tropes and run wild with them, riling up the base en route.  But they’re not new, as in converted from being Democrats.  And I think that’s why this is being misinterpreted.  Unless the Tea Party is convincing the moderates with their ideas to vote Republican this year — which I’m sure they have to some extent — they’re not going to be a game-changer at the polls.

Then again, it’s all speculation right now.  We’ll see in 11 days when the people vote.  I just wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not as revelatory as some think it will be.

Image courtesy of Fibonacci Blue’s Flickr Photostream.


  1. Tea Partiers are not Republicans in new clothes, they are Conservatives who were woken up, when Obama lurched to the Far Left after he was elected.

    Democratic candidates all over the country are NOT running on the legislation that they have passed over the last 2 years, if you listen to most of them, they “sound” like Conservatives, even though they would never formally embrace the tea party movement.

    You only have to listen to the ads that Jerry Brown is running (about as far left as Obama) to understand he “sounds” like a conservative. The vast majority of the country is center right when it comes to fiscal policy and he is trying to appeal to them not the far left base.

    This brings me to the reason the country is in such a mess. We are surrounded by politicians that say one thing in the campaign, and do the opposite when elected. The President himself the leading example.

    Tea Partiers are fed up with the bullshit and so should you be.

    • First off: we disagree that Obama is on the far left. But even if he is, he certainly didn’t lurch there after the elections. Please tell me what he did that was so far to the left of what he campaigned on. What did he do that was so out of left field (no pun intended) that was completely contradictory to what he said he would do?

      Democrats aren’t running on their policies because they’re cowards. They’re weak and they won’t stand up for what they did right over the past 18 months. They’re letting the noise from the Right dominate the headlines — sick children have guaranteed health care coverage now because of the reform — if the Dems were better at politics (not policy) they would be able to own that discussion. Even the president is being absurdly weak with regard to DADT – saying he’s against it but then fighting to keep it going! Pathetic. But that’s a different discussion.

      Also – wanting to reduce our deficit isn’t a solely conservative concept. It’s not an inherently liberal idea to just run up the debt without concern for the future. Sure, liberals tend to spend more, and that’s why they also tend to tax more — but it’s not a partisan thing to be fiscally irresponsible. Anyone from any party can be that way. Bush ran up the debt in a big way, while Clinton balanced it.

      I’m fed up with politicians in general. But I don’t see anything revelatory in the Tea Partiers. They haven’t given any specifics to how they would change things. They run on vague tropes of cutting taxes and cutting spending but refuse to say what they’d cut (and usually say they won’t cut the two biggest issues: Medicare and the military). Plus, Republicans are the ones saying that government can’t create jobs, yet run on campaigns that say they’ll create jobs! (See: Meg Whitman.) It’s all just hot air.

      But my bigger point of this post was that they are still just Republicans in new clothes. Republicans didn’t like Obama when he ran in 08 and they still don’t like him now. The GOP has been in lock-step disagreement with everything he’s done, not even willing to work with him to shape some of the policies to be more centered. Obama has angered some on the far left, who are just ridiculous in their own way, but none of this feels new or surprising. Conservatives don’t like the liberal sitting president and Congress. Not exactly shocking. The base is riled up more than they have been in a while — and some good can come of this, to be sure — but I think it’s being overstated in its impact on this election and the general mood of the entire country as a whole. Despite what people like Palin will say about the “real” Americans (the ones in the middle, not on the coasts, apparently), a lot of people are turned off by the polarizing rhetoric from these candidates.

      But again… we’ll see in 11 days. And if I’m wrong, I’ll eat crow.

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